Butterfield Elementary and other schools in Maricopa are waiting for official start dates for the new school year. Photo by Bob McGovern

 

Gov. Doug Ducey’s announcement Tuesday that the start of school will be delayed caused some chaos among education administrators at the local and state level.

Ducey said the goal is to start school Aug. 17 as the state battles increasing cases of COVID-19. Afterward in the actual executive order, it was clarified that online classes could start earlier. State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, who did not participate in the governor’s briefing, scrambled to work through apparent discrepancies in today’s executive order and one released last week.

Those discrepancies have funding implications.

Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board had scheduled a special meeting today to set a new start date for classes. The official opening of school was set for July 23 before the pandemic struck. Ducey’s announcement came just three-and-a-half hours before the meeting.

The board had expected to talk about starting the first week of August. MUSD Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said she had put together a half-dozen options for a timeline, but the governor’s announcement blew that up.

Though having a lengthy discussion about the situation, the board ultimately voted to postpone a decision on the start date until its July 8 meeting. The hope is by then it will have clarity from the state.

Lopeman said the administration is “looking for very clear, black-and-white guidance,” which she said is currently like looking for “a needle in a haystack.”

She presented information on possibilities. One would have all students in online classes starting on July 27 and then resuming brick-and-mortar or hybrid classes on Aug. 17. The other had all options beginning on Aug. 17.

“My concern is, I don’t know that if teachers will be prepared to do virtual by July 27,” board member Torri Anderson said.

While working to ensure teachers are ready to teach excellently online, students are comfortable learning remotely and parents understand the expectations, the district also must make sure teacher contracts are fulfilled.

The remote learning for the new year is expected to be more stringent than programs in place across the state for the fourth quarter of last year. Students will be answerable for their grades and their attendance.

Board President AnnaMarie Knorr said teachers and parents need to understand the new virtual classroom will be different and there will be accountability. She also pressed the importance of getting children back in real classrooms.

“My daughter is starting kindergarten this fall,” Knorr said. “How is she going to virtual-school? It’s a joke.”

Curriculum Director Wade Watson said teachers are at varying levels of comfort with teaching online. Learning the basic platform takes four to five hours of training.

IT Director Christine Dickinson said she and her staff are working extensively on an induction plan as the online model has changed.

“We’re going to rise to the challenge whatever is put in front of us,” she said, adding an “amazing group” of technical integration specialists are coming on board.

Krista Roden, director of Teaching & Learning, said teachers “are ready to support whatever model we choose.”

Board member Patti Coutré said it was important not to rush the process.

 

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